A Mead couple and a heating technician were hospitalized earlier this week for carbon monoxide poisoning.
And last week three Spokane Valley adults and an infant were hospitalized for the same reason.
While everyone escaped in these cases, the odorless, colorless gas can be fatal. Public safety officials say the recent incidents show the need for a new law that takes effect Jan. 1 requiring carbon monoxide alarms in single-family homes as well as hotels, motels, apartments and other dwellings.
“The fire service is very supportive of this. It is important for the public’s safety. As important as smoke detectors are,” said Dave Kokot, a Spokane Fire Department fire protection engineer who helped develop the procedural rules to put the state law in place. Carbon monoxide is “pretty scary stuff.”
The gas comes from all fuel-burning sources such as heaters, charcoal grills, camp stoves and furnaces, fire officials said.
On Tuesday, firefighters responded to the Mead home for a “man down,” said Spokane County Fire District No. 9 Deputy Chief Mike VanHeel. A technician inspecting the couple’s furnace had passed out. The man was “unconscious and unresponsive, and the firefighters start treating him for possible diabetic issues, or other possibilities.”
One of the firefighters began to wonder if carbon monoxide might be the problem. He put on a mask and went back into the home to measure the carbon monoxide level and determined it was too high. The other firefighters, the couple and technician were immediately pulled outside.
“It’s not like smoke. It doesn’t rise to the ceiling; it spreads around a room or house or building rather quickly and can permeate drywall or concrete,” Kokot said.
About 73 percent of carbon monoxide exposure is in the home, and more than 41 percent occurs during the months of December, January and February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“There are a lot of variables as to how quickly the carbon monoxide will impact a person depending on the level of activity and the level of gas’s concentration,” VanHeel said. “It’s hard to predict.”
Signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include dizziness, nausea, drowsiness and flulike symptoms, Kokot said. Those effects will disappear once patients get into fresh air.
“The carbon monoxide detectors detect levels that are non-life-threatening; people do not need to call 911 unless someone is feeling sick,” Kokot said. When an alarm sounds, “turn off heat or appliances and ventilate the space by opening the doors and windows, and call the servicer.”
The alarms are readily available at stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot. They usually range between $20 and $45 and are easier to install than smoke detectors, Kokot said. “It’s recommended that people install one on each level and outside of the sleeping areas.”